The 9 Most Promising Psychobiotics for Anxiety

I used to walk around ruminating, struggling with inner turmoil and nervousness all the time. 

It never went away.

It was impossible to shake. 

It wore me down and ruined the quality of my life. 

There’s no doubt that fear and vigilance are helpful when you’re faced with an actual threat. 

But an unnecessarily high state of worry and arousal when there is nothing threatening you? That's a nightmare. 

It doesn’t have to be that way though. 

If you have chronic anxiety, there are ways to manage and reverse it, like I have.

And psychobiotics are one way to do that.

Psychobiotics are probiotics and prebiotics that can improve your mental health by changing the mixture of bacteria in your gut (46-47). 

It is estimated that 100 trillion bacteria, and 500 to 1,000 species of bacteria, live in the human gut. These gut bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiome, help with digestion. But an increasing amount of research suggests that they also communicate with your brain through the microbiome-gut-brain axis, affecting your thoughts, feelings and behaviour (48-49). 

Gut is playing chess with Brain. Gut says “Gutsy move for a brain…”.

A dysfunctional gut microbiome has been linked to a number of mental health problems and psychiatric conditions, including anxiety.

In fact, anxiety and gut health are very tightly linked. 

Research shows that people who have digestive disorders are more likely to have anxiety, and those with anxiety have higher rates of gastrointestinal disease (50-52).

And studies show that when digestive disorders improve, anxiety improves as well (53). 

Unfortunately, a lot of people have poor gut health today because of the widespread use of antibiotics, medications, herbicides, stress, infections, poor diet, etc. 

But don’t worry. You can improve your gut health and anxiety at the same time with the use of psychobiotics. 

Studies show that psychobiotics can improve anxiety by (54-55):

Here are the nine best psychobiotics that have been shown in human and animal studies to decrease stress and help treat anxiety disorders. 

They are truly the best probiotics for anxiety.

The word psychobiotic.

1. Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is a bacterium found in the human gut. It is one of the most popular probiotic species found in supplements.

Preliminary research suggests that supplementing with lactobacillus rhamnosus can lower anxiety in humans (3). 

GABA is the main inhibitory and relaxing neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, and studies suggest that lactobacillus rhamnosus may reduce anxiety by changing the expression of GABA receptors (1-2, 4). 

In one study, researchers gave lactobacillus rhamnosus to mice, and it reduced their anxiety-like behaviours. But when researchers removed part of their vagus nerve, lactobacillus rhamnosus did not reduce their anxiety, suggesting that psychobiotics communicate with the brain and improve mental health through the vagus nerve (1-2). 

The mice [given lactobacillus rhamnosus] were more chilled out.
— Dr. John Cryan, researcher and pharmacologist with the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Center at University College Cork, Ireland

Other studies have found that lactobacillus rhamnosus decreases stress-induced anxiety-like behaviour, and researchers have concluded that it can protect against anxiety (5, 7). 

Lactobacillus rhamnosus has also been shown to reduce obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)-like behaviour in mice. In fact, researchers found it was just as effective as fluoxetine, an SSRI antidepressant commonly used to treat OCD (6). 

So if you struggle with OCD or obsessive-compulsive tendencies, it’s worth trying this psychobiotic.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus can be found in some yogurt and dairy products, such as fermented and unpasteurized milk and semi-hard cheese. But I typically don’t recommend eating these foods unless you’re sure you can tolerate them.

2. Bifidobacterium longum

Bifidobacterium longum is another bacterium present in the human gut. It is often added to food as it can help prevent the growth of pathogenic organisms.

I previously wrote about how it’s been proven to help treat depression.

Bacteria. Bacteria can affect the mind through the gut-brain axis.

But it can also reduce anxiety. 

Researchers have concluded that bifidobacterium longum can reduce cortisol and alleviate psychological distress in humans (including obsessions, compulsions, paranoia, anxiety) (28-30). 

Lots of animal research also shows that bifidobacterium longum can significantly reduce anxiety-like behaviour (31-34). 

One study found that a chronic infection in mice increased inflammation and caused anxiety-like behaviour, but bifidobacterium longum reduced anxiety and normalized behaviour (35-36). 

Researchers have even figured out that it works by acting through the vagus nerve (27). 

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3. Lactobacillus plantarum

Lactobacillus plantarum is another probiotic species that can reduce anxiety. 

In one study, researchers gave lactobacillus plantarum to patients with irritable bowel syndrome and it significantly reduced their anxiety and improved their quality of life (8). 

Animal studies also show that lactobacillus plantarum can cause positive changes in emotional behaviours and significantly reduce anxiety-like behaviours. It does this by increasing dopamine and serotonin, lowering stress hormone levels, and reducing inflammation (9-11). 

As a result, researchers have concluded that lactobacillus plantarum has psychotropic properties without physical side effects, and has great potential for treating neuropsychiatric disorders, including anxiety (9-11). 

Lactobacillus plantarum is also commonly found in many fermented vegetables including sauerkraut, pickles, brined olives, kimchi.

4. Lactobacillus helveticus

Lactobacillus helveticus is a probiotic strain that has been shown to reduce cortisol and have anti-anxiety effects in humans (37, 39, 44).

One study found that it can even reduce paranoid and obsessive-compulsive thoughts (38). 

Blue bacteria. Bacteria can influence our anxiety levels.

Animal research shows that a Western-style diet can negatively change the gut microbiome, increase brain inflammation, and contribute to anxiety. But lactobacillus helveticus can protect against this, reducing both neuroinflammation and anxiety (40-42).

One study even found that lactobacillus helveticus works better than citalopram, a common SSRI antidepressant, at reducing anxiety-like behaviour in rats. It also reduced their stress hormone levels and increased their serotonin levels (43). 

Lactobacillus helveticus is also commonly found in American Swiss cheese and Emmental cheese, and sometimes other cheeses, such as Cheddar, Parmesan, Romano, provolone, and mozzarella.

I’m very sensitive to dairy so I can’t eat cheese regularly. But if you’re not and can tolerate them, you could try adding some of these cheeses into your diet. 

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5. Lactobacillus reuteri

Lactobacillus reuteri is a bacterium with anti-inflammatory effects that scientists first discovered in the 1980s. 

It is usually found in the human gut. However, not all humans have it, and some people simply have very low levels of it. Therefore, you may need to supplement with it to introduce and maintain high levels of it.

Research shows that Lactobacillus reuteri can reduce anxiety-like behaviours in animals by reducing stress hormone levels and altering the expression of GABA receptors (13-14).

And one study found that the absence of lactobacillus reuteri causes social deficits in animals.

We found that treatment with this single bacterial strain was able to rescue their social behavior.
— Shelly Buffington, neuroscience researcher at Baylor College of Medicine

By adding it back in to the guts of the animals, the researchers were able to reverse some of their behavioural deficits, which were similar to symptoms of social anxiety and autism in humans (15-16). 

Therefore, lactobacillus reuteri is definitely the psychobiotic strain worth trying if you struggle with social anxiety or symptoms of autism.

It's also found in breast milk, and some meat and dairy products.

6. Lactobacillus casei

Lactobacillus casei is another bacterium found in the human gut. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

In one double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and digestive problems took Lactobacillus casei as a daily supplement for two months. At the end of the study, they had a significant decrease in their anxiety symptoms (17-19). 

So this is a good psychobiotic to try if you struggle with a mixture of fatigue, digestive problems and anxiety.

Lactobacillus casei is the dominant species in naturally fermented Sicilian green olives, and can also be found in other fermented vegetables and dairy products. 

7. Lactobacillus fermentum

Lactobacillus fermentum is another species that is part of the human microbiome and commonly found in fermented vegetables.

It hasn’t been studied as much as other lactobacillus probiotic species.

Bacteria. Psychobiotics are bacteria that affect our psychological state of mind.

But there still is some evidence that is may be able to help treat anxiety, especially if you have a long history of antibiotic treatment. 

Research shows that antibiotics can trigger anxiety in animals by disturbing the microbiome.

But by giving animals lactobacillus fermentum, researchers can reduce the inflammation and reverse the psychological problems brought on by antibiotics, including anxiety-like behaviour (12).

So if you’ve taken a lot of antibiotics over the years, or noticed that your anxiety got worse after taking a course of antibiotics, taking a psychobiotic supplement with lactobacillus fermentum is worth a try. 

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8. Bifidobacterium breve

Bifidobacterium breve is a beneficial bacterium found in human breast milk and the human gut. The amount in your gut declines as you get older (20). 

Research shows that bifidobacterium breve can reduce anxiety-like behaviour in animals (21). 

Anxious animals also perform better on cognitive tests after being given it (22). 

This makes bifidobacterium breve a great psychobiotic option if your anxiety impairs your cognition and interferes with your ability to complete tasks. 

Bifidobacterium breve can be found naturally in some fermented foods.

9. Galacto-oligosaccharides

Not all psychobiotics are simply probiotics.

Psychobiotics can also include “prebiotics,” which are non-digestible soluble fibres that stimulate the growth of good gut bacteria, and therefore improve mental health and reduce anxiety.

Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) are a type of prebiotic that have been shown to do just that. 

Picture of intestines. Our intestinal health can significantly affect our mental health.

In one study, GOS significantly decreased the secretion of cortisol, and participants paid more attention to positive information rather than negative information (23).

People who are anxious tend to have high levels of cortisol and often get caught up in negative thinking. So this study suggests that GOS has anti-anxiety effects. 

Other research has demonstrated that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often have anxiety because of the lack of microbial diversity in their gut. However, when IBS sufferers supplement with a prebiotic mixture containing GOS, it significantly reduces their anxiety and improves the quality of their life (24-26). 

You can get GOS here.

What Psychobiotic Should You Take?

Ideally, you should buy and try one probiotic strain at a time to figure out how you respond to each one.

That's what I did over the span of several years. 

I would buy and try one probiotic species and strain, take it for at least one month, and then monitor how I felt during that time.

Sometimes I would stop taking it if I felt worse.

I was my own guinea pig and tested and experimented with so many different probiotic supplements to find the ones that helped. 

I usually recommend people follow the same process because many people like myself often experience a bad reaction to one strain, but a good reaction to another. 

But I understand doing that can be time-consuming and tedious. Plus, clinical studies often demonstrate that probiotic mixtures with multiple strains are better at improving the diversity of gut bacteria than single strains (45). 

So, to make it easier for you, I’ve now created my own psychobiotic supplement, called Optimal Biotics.

I created it because I want to give my clients and readers the very best psychobiotic supplement so that they can experience superior results.

I have found that many psychobiotic supplements on the market fall short and even cause side effects.

But Optimal Biotics doesn't, and it contains the 8 most well-researched and beneficial probiotic strains for your mental health.

I also recommend adding fermented foods into your diet and see how that goes. Fermented foods contain many strains of bacteria that have not been documented in the scientific literature.  That said, the downside is that the bacteria in fermented foods will vary depending on the batch, and there is sometimes the risk of them containing pathogenic bacteria.

Here are some other steps you can take to increase the good bacteria in your gut. 

And this anti-anxiety supplement also includes several other natural compounds that have helped me manage my anxiety over the years. It can help reduce stress and anxiety while you work to improve your gut health. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

Conclusion

The microbiome and psychobiotics are at the cutting-edge of neuroscience and mental health research and treatment. It hasn’t been that long since researchers first discovered that there is a gut-brain connection. 

Cartoon image of bacteria and psychobiotics.

When I first found out about it several years ago, I started consuming psychobiotics, and they have definitely helped me recover from chronic anxiety. 

But it’s important to point out that psychobiotics alone were never enough.

I also had to make changes to my diet, take key supplements, improve thyroid health, and overcome trauma. There really is no quick fix or magic bullet. 

Yet for some people, psychobiotics can be life changing, especially if you have digestive issues alongside your anxiety and worry. 

Overall, I think they are absolutely worth a try. 

I hope this article helps you, and please share it with anyone you think might benefit from it. 

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4370913/

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876150/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25879690

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934620/

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5225647/

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24257436

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4200314/

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25024629

(9) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26620542

(10) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26522841

(11) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161121160038.htm

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25869281

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3754198/

(14) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2982.2010.01664.x/full#b28

(15) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160616140723.htm

(16) http://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(16)30730-9

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664325/

(18) https://gutpathogens.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1757-4749-1-6

(19) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19338686/

(20) http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fmicb.2016.01204/full

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25251188

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25794930

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410136/

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4370913/

(25) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2008.03911.x/abstract

(26) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19053980

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3413724/

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974015/

(29) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.4161/gmic.2.4.16108

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21983070

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21683077

(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934620/

(33) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25251188

(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25794930

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20600016

(36) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21988661

(37) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974015/

(38) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.4161/gmic.2.4.16108

(39) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934620/

(40) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23566632

(41) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26408987

(42) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24554471

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26408987

(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23181058

(45) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4906699/

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23759244

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5102282/

(48) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4228144/

(49) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4937966/

(50) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=18819774

(51) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21908055

(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21908055

(53) http://www.ashdin.com/journals/JEM/235910/

(54) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27632908

(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27841940

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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20 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Make You Depressed

Being depressed doesn’t mean you’re weak.

It’s not a defect in your personality. 

As I’m sure you know, it’s often caused by physiological changes in your body and brain.

So you need to think of it like any other illness. 

If you have a broken bone, you need to wear a cast to stabilize the bone while it heals. 

And if you have depression, you need to be kind to yourself, as you seek and address the underlying root causes. 

The good news is that you’re not powerless. 

I used to think that I’d be depressed forever.

That my depression was simply genetic, and I couldn’t do anything about it. 

In fact, I accepted that notion for a while.

I felt defeated and hopeless, and thought I'd feel that way for my entire life.

I told myself I’d simply have to rely on drugs to survive because that’s just “how I’m wired”. 

But then one day, I changed my mind and decided that I’d had enough. 

And I was actually going to get to the bottom of it instead of just accepting it.

I took action and searched far and wide for safer and healthier solutions to deal with my depression.

I came across research that wasn’t even considered by my psychiatrist.

Therapies that they said wouldn’t work.

But then they did.

And I overcome my depression for good. 

One of my most important discoveries was that nutrient deficiencies can make your depression worse. 

And they could even be the root cause of it. 

It made so much sense.

But why hadn’t my doctors ever brought it up?

I delved deeper into the scientific literature, and I found MANY nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to depression.

I started increasing my intake of them.

And I got better.

Much better.

This new post includes 20 nutrient deficiencies that could be making you feel depressed.

It boggles my mind that many conventional psychiatrists ignore this research.

But that doesn’t mean you need to. 

Read on to learn more. 

Depressed woman holds her forehead and wonders what nutrients she’s deficient in.

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to fight depression.

Several studies have shown that depressive patients have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids (1-3).

Researchers even conducted a meta-analysis of 14 studies, and they found that levels of omega-3 fatty acids were significantly lower in people with depression (4). 

They concluded that having a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids is a “contributing factor to mood disorders” (5). 

It’s important to consume enough omega-3 fatty acids because they are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish, including:

Piece of cooked salmon on a plate. This salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids that can help fight depression.
  • Salmon

  • Black cod

  • Sablefish

  • Sardines

  • Herring

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.

That’s why I recommend supplementing with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids

I take this one.

I feel more depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

This isn’t surprising because plenty of research shows that omega-3 supplements are effective at treating clinical depression – just as effective as antidepressants drugs – because they lower inflammation in the brain (6-10). 

2. Vitamin B12

Lack of understanding of B12 is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine.
— Dr. James Greenblatt, Integrative Psychiatrist

Having sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.  

Unfortunately, a deficiency is very common, especially in older individuals and vegetarians and vegans.

And even if you eat meat and you’re young, you may still have a deficiency. 

Poor gut health and even psychiatric medications can cause a deficiency.

In fact, it’s estimated that almost 40% of Americans are deficient today.

Numerous studies have shown that having a deficiency in Vitamin B12 leads to symptoms of depression (16-22). 

And B12 levels tend to be significantly lower in people who are depressed (13). 

In one study, subjects with Vitamin B12 deficiency were 2 times as likely to be severely depressed as non-deficient subjects (15). 

Even a mild decrease in B12 levels is associated with mood disturbances (14). 

Luckily, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re not deficient. 

Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal foods, and beef liver is an excellent source. I take these beef liver capsules because I don’t like the taste of liver.

You may also want to supplement with Vitamin B12 because studies show that B12 supplementation significantly lowers homocysteine levels and reduces depressive symptoms (23-24). 

If you decide to supplement, avoid the semisynthetic version of B12 (cyanocobalamin) and instead take the methylated form (methylcobalamin or methyl-B12). 

Methyl-B12 is better absorbed and more biologically active.

I take this B complex supplement regularly, and it includes methyl-B12.

3. Vitamin D (and Vitamin K2)

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun.

Every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including depression.

Researchers have found a very strong link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression (27-28). 

The lower your Vitamin D levels, the more symptoms of depression you are likely to have (35). 

Unfortunately, reports indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and a major health problem globally (25). 

Sunlight shining through trees in a forest. Sunlight gives us Vitamin D, one of the main nutrient deficiencies that can cause depression.

Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (26). 

It’s best to get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sunlight.

It’s especially important to make sure you get some sunlight in the morning to set your circadian rhythm. 

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, especially during the winter.

That’s why I recommend using a Vitamin D lamp. I use this one.

Or you can take a Vitamin D supplement

I now prefer sunlight and the lamp to get my Vitamin D, but research does show that taking a Vitamin D3 supplement is effective at reducing symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder (29-31). 

This is likely because Vitamin D increases the production of numerous neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine (32-34). 

Lastly, if you decide to supplement with Vitamin D3, you should consider taking it with Vitamin K2

A recent study found that Vitamin K2 reduces depression in animals (36). 

And Vitamin K2 is known to improve brain function in humans (37-38). 

4. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium today.  

This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity. 

Research shows that low magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems, including depression (42). 

In fact, researchers have found that people with depression have lower magnesium levels than healthy people (49). 

They’ve also found a significant association between very low magnesium intake and depression (43). 

On top of this, animal research shows that removing magnesium from their diet results in depressive-like symptoms (50). 

So if you’re struggling with depression, it’s very important to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium so that you don’t have a deficiency.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to do this. 

First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

Epsom salt baths are another great way to increase your body’s intake of magnesium

I also highly recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement

A number of studies have concluded that magnesium supplementation can reduce depressive symptoms in humans – sometimes within 7 days (44-48). 

I now take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain.

Since most people are deficient, magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking.

5. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for mental health.

Like magnesium, it plays a key role in neurotransmission and nervous system functioning.

Mounting evidence suggests a link between zinc deficiency and the development and severity of depression (66-68, 76).  

Depressed patients tend to have lower levels of zinc. And as their zinc levels drop, their depressive symptoms get worse (81-84). 

An image of zinc-rich foods, including pumpkin seeds of cashews. Zinc is one mineral that can help fight depression. Many people with depression often have low levels of zinc.

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and several studies show that even subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (63-65). 

So, if you struggle with depression, it’s quite possible that you’re deficient, and you’ll definitely want to optimize your zinc levels. 

Some of the best food sources of zinc include:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health.

However, if you’re deficient like I was, I recommend taking a high-quality zinc supplement, at least for a short period of time. 

A meta-analysis and several studies have concluded that zinc supplementation has antidepressant effects and significantly reduces symptoms of depression. One way it improves mood is by significantly increasing BDNF levels (69-75, 77-80).

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc levels are optimal. 

Check out my previous post all about zinc if you’re interested in discovering more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels.

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6. Folate

Folate (Vitamin B9) is an essential B vitamin that plays a key role in methylation, one of the most important processes in your body and brain for optimal energy and nervous system function.

Researchers have found that if you are depressed, you likely have lower levels of folate circulating in your blood, and people with low blood folate are at greater risk for developing depression (55-56). 

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

  • Leafy greens

  • Asparagus

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Strawberries

  • Avocado

  • Beef liver

  • Poultry

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health.

However, eating folate-rich foods sometimes isn’t enough. In fact, many people do not get enough folate from food because cooking and food processing destroy natural folates (54).

And supplementation is often needed. 

If you decide to supplement with folate, avoid synthetic folic acid, which is commonly found in standard multivitamins. Instead, you should take a biologically active form of folate (methylfolate or 5-MTHF). 

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (51-53). 

On top of this, many people have genetic mutations in the enzyme that converts folic acid into methylfolate in the body. Therefore, folic acid is a waste and can actually cause harm if you have this genetic mutation.

And the research backs up the use of methylfolate.

In one study, patients with depression took methylfolate for 6 months, and they witnessed a significant improvement in their depressive symptoms (57). 

Researchers have even suggested that folate supplementation should be a first-line treatment for depression (58). 

Methylfolate can be effective at treating depression because it helps lower homocysteine levels, helps produce serotonin and dopamine, and stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain (59-62). 

Methylfolate is included in this B vitamin complex that I take regularly. Or you can take it separately if you’d like. 

7. Vitamin B6

Having a deficiency in Vitamin B6 can also contribute to your depression.

It’s a key nutrient that supports your entire nervous system.

It can boost your mood because it plays a key role in the production of neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin and dopamine. It also lowers homocysteine

Research shows that people with depressive symptoms tend to have low levels of Vitamin B6 (85-87). 

A Vitamin B6 deficiency also contributes to chronic inflammation, which is one of the main underlying root causes of depression (88). 

A bunch of foods rich in Vitamin B6, including chicken, beef, bananas and potatoes. Vitamin B6 is one nutrient that can help you overcome depression.

Fortunately, consuming more Vitamin B6 can help. 

One study found that women that eat more foods containing Vitamin B6 have a lower risk of depression (89). 

Some of the best food sources of Vitamin B6 include potatoes, bananas and chicken. 

But supplementation is often necessary to see quick improvements. 

One study found that supplementing with Vitamin B6 can reduce depressive symptoms by lowering homocysteine levels (90). 

When I took antidepressants for depression, multiple functional and integrative doctors suggested I supplement with Vitamin B6.

This is because these medications can actually further deplete Vitamin B6, increasing depression in the long run. 

Vitamin B6 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.

8. Vitamin C

Having low levels of Vitamin C can also make you feel depressed.

Researchers have found that poor Vitamin C status is associated with increased symptoms of depression (105). 

Animal research also shows that a Vitamin C deficiency can lead to low levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which causes mice to act depressed (106-107). 

As you probably know, Vitamin C can be found in foods such as peppers, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, and berries. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 grams of this Vitamin C every day. 

I’ve experimented with taking up to 10 grams daily, and it definitely improved my mood and reduced my stress levels, especially when I was coming off antidepressants

Research backs this up, showing that supplementing with Vitamin C can actually improve mood in both unhealthy and healthy individuals (95, 102-103). 

Various other studies show that Vitamin C supplements reduce stress and anxiety and decrease the severity of depression (96-101, 104).

Studies even show that Vitamin C can increase the effectiveness of antidepressants (108-109). 

9. Thiamine

Thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1, is an essential water-soluble nutrient that cannot be made by the body. 

It’s used in nearly every cell in the body and especially important for supporting energy levels.

It’s also required by nerve cells and other supporting cells in the nervous system (167). 

Research shows that lower levels of Vitamin B1 are associated with a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms (168).

Vitamin B1 deficiency is also known to lead to irritability and symptoms of depression (170). 

Some doctors and researchers believe that postpartum depression is sometimes simply a Vitamin B1 deficiency (169). 

Luckily, consuming more Vitamin B1 can help.

An assorted mix of nuts. Nuts are a rich source of thiamine, or Vitamin B1. People with depression often have low levels of Vitamin B1.

A randomized, double-blind clinical trial found that Vitamin B1 supplementation reduces symptoms of depression within 6 weeks (171). 

And another concluded that Vitamin B1 supplementation improves mood, reduces brain fog, and speeds up reaction time (172).

In fact, researchers have even found that subjects’ mood improves if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood increases, and that the opposite occurs if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood decreases (173). 

Benfotiamine is the best supplemental form of Vitamin B1. It’s included in this B complex that I take. 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B1 include green peas, beef liver, asparagus, pecans, spinach, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, oranges, cantaloupe and eggs. 

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

10. Carnitine

Carnitine is an amino acid found in nearly every cell of the body. It plays a vital role in the production of energy.

Researchers have found significantly lower levels of carnitine in patients with depression. And their low carnitine levels are associated with the severity of their depression (11-12, 174-175). 

Carnitine is mainly found in meat, fish and poultry.

But you can also supplement with it. 

I recommend Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), an acetylated form of carnitine. It’s best supplemental form of carnitine. 

It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells.

But it’s also been shown to be very effective at quickly improving mood and treating depression (179-182). 

Six randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that ALCAR is better at treating depression than placebo (177). 

And two other studies found that ALCAR improved depressive symptoms in patients with chronic depression, and it was just as effective as antidepressant medications, but with less side effects (176, 178). 

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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11. Iron

Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies.

It carries oxygen to all parts of your body, and low levels can leave you feeling tired, pale, irritable and foggy

Sounds like depression doesn’t it?

Several studies show that iron deficiency increases the risk of developing depression and increases the severity of depression (184-186, 188-190). 

A spoonful of spirulina. Spirulina is rich in iron. Iron is one nutrient deficiency that can cause depression.

Researchers have also conducted a meta-analysis and found that high iron intake reduces the chance of developing depression (183). 

In one study, iron supplementation resulted in a 25% improvement in depressive symptoms (187). 

Despite this, I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron though because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems.

It’s definitely preferable to get your iron from food. 

I make sure I get enough iron simply by taking these grass-fed beef liver capsules.

Beef liver is one of the best sources of iron, but I don’t like the taste, so I go with the capsules. You can get them here or here.

Other good sources of iron include:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

12. Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for many bodily processes that affect your brain and mental health.

Researchers have found that depression is associated with low levels of selenium (191). 

But supplementing with selenium has been shown to significantly increase selenium levels and improve symptoms of depression (192). 

Other research shows that selenium intake is associated with a general elevation of mood (193). 

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, but it can also be found in wild-caught seafood, pastured chicken and eggs, and grass-fed meat.

I also make sure I’m not deficiency in selenium by taking selenomethionine, which is a highly-absorbable form of selenium.

13. Riboflavin

Riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2, plays a key role in energy metabolism throughout your entire body.  

A handful of almonds. Almonds are an excellent source of Vitamin B2, a nutrient that is commonly depleted in people with depression.

As a result, a Vitamin B2 deficiency can affect the entire body, leading to low energy, weight gain, and depression.

In fact, lower levels of Vitamin B2 have been found in people with depression (91). 

Researchers have also found that Vitamin B2 consumption decreases risk of postpartum depression (92). 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B2 include pastured eggs, leafy vegetables, beef liver, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and almonds

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

If you’d like, you can also supplement with Vitamin B2.

Studies show that supplementing with Vitamin B2 helps lower homocysteine and reduces depressive symptoms (93-94). 

Vitamin B2 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement. 

14. Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a coenzyme and antioxidant located primarily in the mitochondria. It has numerous known health benefits and plays a critical role in producing energy for the body.

CoQ10 is produced within the body, but it’s also found within food and can be supplied to the body through food or supplementation. It resembles a fat-soluble vitamin.

Meat and fish are the richest sources of dietary CoQ10, including beef, pork, chicken heart, and chicken liver. Nuts and some oils also contain some CoQ10 (110). 

Research shows that CoQ10 levels are reduced in people with depression and chronic fatigue (111). 

One study also found that CoQ10 regulates serotonin levels and depressive symptoms in fibromyalgia patients (117). 

CoQ10 supplementation has also been shown to improve fatigue and reduce depression symptom severity (112-114). 

It also displays antidepressant-like activity in animals (115-116). 

Ubiquinol is the best supplemental form of CoQ10 that is absorbed by the body. It can be used if you have a CoQ10 deficiency. I took CoQ10 when I was on antidepressants and for a short while after coming off them. 

15. Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid

Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid (DGLA) is an uncommon fatty acid.

Vials of Borage Oil, a fat that is rich in DGLA. DGLA has anti-inflammatory effects and can help beat depression.

It’s made in the body by the elongation of Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA).

But small amounts can also be found in animal products (118). 

Last year, researchers found that people with depression are more likely to have low levels of DGLA levels (121). 

And increasing DGLA levels may lower the risk of developing depression (122). 

DGLA also has anti-inflammatory effects in the body (119). 

So it makes sense that levels would be low in depressed individuals because an increasing amount of evidence suggests that depression is a chronic inflammatory disease. 

DGLA can be increased by supplementing with dietary GLA (120). 

GLA can be found in Borage Oil, Evening Primrose Oil and Blackcurrant Seed Oil (123). 

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16. Inositol

Inositol is a naturally-occurring molecule found in nearly all plants and animals. It plays a key role in various biological processes.

The brain has the highest concentration of inositol, where it plays an important role making neurotransmitters (124). 

Inositol can be found in many foods, particularly fruit, especially cantaloupe and oranges (125). 

It used to be considered a B Vitamin, called Vitamin B8. But it currently is no longer considered an essential nutrient because your body can produce inositol from glucose (126). 

But I’m including it in this list anyway because individuals with depression have very low levels of inositol in their brains (127-129). 

And inositol supplementation has been shown to increase inositol levels and help treat depression (130, 132). 

It can also reduce symptoms of depression in women with premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (131, 133). 

It’s even been shown to help patients who have discontinued their antidepressant medication (134). 

I took high doses of this inositol powder when weening off psychiatric medication.

I now take a normal amount found in this B complex.

Check out my full post about inositol to learn more about the benefits. 

Fun fact: Inositol is also used as a stand-in for cocaine in television shows and movies. 

17. Manganese

Manganese is an important trace mineral for human health. It acts as a cofactor, helping many enzymes carry out their functions in the body.

A table of foods that have high levels of manganese. Manganese deficiency can cause depression and make depression worse.

Research shows that having low levels of manganese can contribute to the development of depression (135). 

One study found that depressed patients had significantly lower levels of “manganese superoxide dismutase”, which is a manganese-dependent enzyme (136). 

Researchers have also found that women with higher manganese intake had a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms (137). 

Hazelnuts and macadamia nuts contain high levels of manganese, while leafy green vegetables, tea, chocolate and some fruits contain moderate levels (139). 

However, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t consume too much manganese.

In excess, manganese is neurotoxic and can lead to manganism, a neurodegenerative disorder that causes dopaminergic neuronal death and symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease (138). 

So I definitely don’t recommend supplementing with large doses of manganese. 

The small amount of manganese in Optimal Antiox is fine though. It’s what I take. 

18. Glutamine

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, suggesting that it’s very important.

It’s also one of the few amino acids that can directly cross the blood-brain barrier.

Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning the body can usually produce sufficient amounts of it. But sometimes the body uses up so much glutamine that it becomes necessary to obtain it from the diet or supplements, particularly during periods of illness, stress, inflammation and injuries (156-157). 

Researchers have found that depressed adults have reduced levels of glutamine (158). 

And glutamine deficiency has been shown to increase depressive-like behaviour in animals (159). 

But glutamine supplementation has “clear anti-depressive properties” and has been shown to improve mood (160-161). 

High levels of glutamine can be found in protein-rich foods such as beef, chicken, fish and eggs. Beets, cabbage, spinach, carrots, parsley, brussel sprouts, celery, kale and fermented foods like miso also contain some glutamine.

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

Glutamine is also available in supplement form. 

Glutamine was one of the main supplements that helped me heal my leaky gut, but I no longer need to take it regularly. 

19. Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that cannot be produced by the body. It must be consumed through diet or by taking supplements. 

Some healthy foods that contain tryptophan include bananas, chicken, turkey and dark chocolate (140). 

A doctor is talking to a turkey and says “I think I know what is causing your narcolepsy. You’re full of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that can make you sleepy, but it can also improve mood and help treat depression.

Tryptophan helps produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. It’s converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) in the brain, which then produces serotonin (141-142). 

Researchers have found that depressed patients have significantly lower levels of tryptophan in their blood than healthy control subjects (143-144). 

Studies also show that depressed patients have a decreased ratio of tryptophan to neutral amino acids in their blood. This suggests that tryptophan availability to the brain is likely reduced in depressed patients (145-146). 

Personally, supplementing with tryptophan never helped me. In fact, it always seemed to make me worse. It gave me asthma and acne and increased my depression.  

This is because depressed patients sometimes have problems creating serotonin from tryptophan. Instead, they create other metabolites from tryptophan, such as quinolinic acid, which can be toxic. For depressed patients like me, tryptophan supplementation won’t help, and may actually make their depression worse (150-151). 

However, some people do see their mood improve when they increase their intake of tryptophan. So it shouldn’t be completely disregarded. 

There are studies that show that consuming a high tryptophan diet and consuming additional dietary tryptophan can increase mood and lead to significantly less depressive symptoms (152-154). 

So supplementing with tryptophan is worth a shot if you’re struggling with depression and haven’t tried it yet. Just be aware of possible side effects. 

If you want, you can also try supplementing with 5-HTP instead of tryptophan. 5-HTP is the direct precursor to serotonin. 

5-HTP is included in this supplement

20. Glutathione

Glutathione is a small peptide made up of 3 important amino acids – glutamic acid, cysteine and glycine – each of which have several important roles in the human body.

Glutathione is found in the food supply and within the human body, where it acts as an antioxidant. It is used by every cell in the body.

It’s technically not an “essential nutrient” because the body can create it.

However, it’s still very important, and a glutathione deficiency leads to increased susceptibility to oxidative stress, which is thought to be involved in a number of diseases, including depression.

Studies show that patients with depression have significantly lower levels of glutathione. And the lower a person’s glutathione levels, the more depressed they are likely to be (162-164). 

Some practitioners and researchers have found that increasing glutathione intake and levels can successfully treat depression (165). 

Glutathione is also able to prevent behavioural depression in animals (166). 

It’s important to note that standard glutathione supplements are not very effective at increasing glutathione levels because they are not well absorbed by the body.

But I have found that high-quality liposomal glutathione supplements are effective. 

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is another tried-and-true way of increasing glutathione levels because it’s the direct precursor to glutathione

Garlic, asparagus, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, can also help boost glutathione levels, but liposomal glutathione and NAC supplements are more powerful. 

Other supplements that have been shown to help increase and maintain optimal glutathione levels include Selenium, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and S-adenosyl-methionine (Sam-E)

Enjoy This Article? You Might Also Like My FREE Food Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health!

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC

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21 Proven Ways to Increase Brain Blood Flow

Without a doubt, healthy blood flow is absolutely essential for optimal brain function and mental health.

Brain blood flow, or cerebral blood flow, refers to the blood supply that reaches your brain during a given period of time. 

Your brain needs almost 20% of the blood supply provided by each heartbeat.

A steady flow of blood brings oxygen, glucose and nutrients to the brain, and carries carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and other metabolic waste products away from the brain.

But when blood flow to the brain is hindered, cognitive problems can arise.

Poor brain blood flow and circulation are linked to a number of brain and mental illnesses, including:

Increasing blood flow to the brain might be an effective therapeutic approach to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s.
— Dr. Robert Vassar

Some of the major causes of poor brain blood flow include abnormal blood pressure, poor circulation, low thyroid, infections, and stress (126-130). 

Besides addressing these major causes, there are a number of ways to directly increase the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to your brain.

Researchers use neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) to measure cerebral blood flow.

And they have found that the following 21 methods increase brain blood flow and circulation in humans. 

After suffering multiple concussions, I had severe depression and brain fog, and had no choice but to focus on optimizing brain blood flow and circulation.

A lot of these methods have been significantly helpful to me.

If you want to naturally increase blood flow to your brain, continue reading to learn more.

An illustration of a person’s head, their brain, and blood flowing through the brain.

1. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best and most accessible ways to increase brain blood flow and circulation. 

Research shows that moderate exercise increases blood flow to the brain by as much as 15% (1). 

And you don’t even need to work out intensely to increase blood flow to your brain.

Simply walking for 30 minutes at a brisk pace, three or four times each week, is good enough to get more blood and oxygen to your brain and reap the benefits (2). 

In fact, the foot’s impact on the ground while walking sends pressure waves through the arteries, which sends more blood and oxygen to the brain (3). 

There are many studies that suggest that exercise improves brain function in older adults, but we don’t know exactly why the brain improves. Our study indicates it might be tied to an improvement in the supply of blood flow to the brain.
— Dr. Rong Zhang

Exercise has also been shown to protect against cognitive decline and dementia, promote neurogenesis, help reverse brain damage, and promote the regeneration of myelin.

So not surprisingly, exercise is recommended by many brain health experts and it’s often their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

My usual advice is to find a sport or exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently.

2. Cold Exposure

Exposing yourself to cold can also help you get more blood flowing to your brain. 

Research shows that putting your hand in ice water for one minute can significantly increase the speed of blood flow to the brain (6-8). 

A tough looking guy with a mustache with his fists up in the air ready to fight. It says over the image “Have a cold shower? You mean a shower?”

Researchers have also found that cooling the skin during upright tilting maintains the speed of blood flow to the brain (5). 

Animal studies also show that cold exposure significantly increases cerebral blood flow (4). 

I take a cold shower every day, and often go outside with minimal clothing in the winter to increase my brain blood flow and circulation. 

You don’t have to do that right away though.

You can start out by finishing your next shower with at least 30 seconds of cold water.

See how you feel, and then work your way up to longer.

It can be a bit painful, but you get used to it and the beneficial effects are worth it.

Another way to ease yourself into it is by sticking your face, hand or foot in ice cold water.

Cold exposure also stimulates the vagus nerve and supports the endocannabinoid system

3. Sunlight

A picture of the sun shining through the clouds around it. Sunlight can increase blood flow to the brain.

Research also shows that light stimulates brain blood flow and circulation.

Positron emission technology (PET) measures blood flow to specific areas of the brain.

In one study, researchers used PET scans to monitor cerebral blood flow in patients with season affective disorder (SAD) – before and after light therapy

Before light therapy, the scans show that patients had reduced blood flow to the cerebral cortex, the “executive” part of the brain.

But after just a few days of light therapy, this part of the brain started to light up, indicating greater activity and increased blood flow (9).

And this doesn’t just happen in depressed individuals.

Another study found that 10 minutes of light exposure can increase brain blood flow in healthy people (10). 

Light therapy even increases brain blood flow in pre-term infants (11). 

I personally get sunlight every day during the spring and summer months to support my brain health. It’s a simple way for me to increase blood flow to the brain every day.

Researchers have also found a positive correlation between Vitamin D levels and brain blood flow (94).

So I use this Vitamin D lamp during the winter months when there isn't enough sun.

4. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems.

Today, it’s one of the most popular herbal supplements in the world.

Doctors even prescribe it in Germany!

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health.

Researchers have found that it increases cognitive function, and improves memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (15). 

It has these positive effects mainly by significantly increasing blood flow to the brain and increasing blood circulation in the brain (12-14). 

Gingko biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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5. Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or photobiomodulation, is a treatment that uses red and infrared light to support brain function.

The treatment involved either low-power lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that emit red and infrared light.

This red and infrared light is applied to the brain, and it stimulates brain cells, helping them helping them function better.

Most doctors are clueless about LLLT; but not every doctor. 

A man wears on LLLT helmet and uses the Vielight intranasal device. LLLT can increase brain blood circulation and increase blood flow to the brain.

Dr. Norman Doidge, a physician who teaches at the University of Toronto here in Canada, discusses the amazing effects of LLLT in his book The Brain’s Way of Healing.

One way LLLT can help the brain is by increasing brain blood flow and circulation. 

One study found that applying near infrared light to the forehead can help treat depression and anxiety without side effects by increasing frontal regional cerebral blood flow (49).

Another study showed improvement in brain blood flow in healthy elderly women (50). 

Animal research has also found that light can be used to locally increase brain blood circulation (93). 

I previously wrote about my experience with low-level laser therapy here.

I use the Platinum LED Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) and shine the red and infrared light directly on my forehead. It’s a simple way for me to quickly and naturally increase blood flow to the brain. If you decide to buy and try this device yourself, you can use the coupon code OPTIMAL for a 5% discount.

I also use the Vielight 810, which is an intranasal device with 810 nm of near infrared light. If you decide to buy and try this device yourself, you can use the coupon code JORDANFALLIS for a 10% discount.

LLLT can also support thyroid function and mitochondria function and help with brain fog

6. Vinpocetine

Vinpocetine is a compound from the Periwinkle plant. 

It’s commonly used in Europe to treat cognitive decline, memory impairments, stroke recovery, and epilepsy.

Researchers have found that it increases brain blood flow in both healthy people and stroke victims.

The increase in brain blood flow leads to increased brain oxygen levels and energy production, reduced brain inflammation and improved reaction time (16-25). 

I took this vinpocetine supplement after my last concussion to increase blood flow to the brain and speed up my recovery. 

7. Meditation

Meditation is my favourite relaxation technique and it's linked to increased blood flow in the brain.

In one study, 14 people with memory problems followed a simple 8-week meditation program, and researchers found a significant increase in blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (31). 

Logical memory and verbal fluency also improved after training (31). 

Another study showed that just five days of meditation (30 minutes each day) significantly enhanced brain blood flow (32). 

I use the Muse headband to meditate. It gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. That way, you know how well you are meditating. It makes meditating much more enjoyable.

I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website.

8. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound.

Many people know that it’s found in grapes, red wine, raspberries and dark chocolate.

A glass of red wine and red grapes. Red wine and red grapes contain resveratrol, an antioxidant that can increase blood flow to the brain.

Resveratrol is known to help prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

And researchers are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can increase BDNF, help restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, and support your mitochondria.

But it can also quickly help you get more blood and oxygen flowing to your brain. 

In one study, after taking either 250 or 500 milligrams of resveratrol, study participants experienced a dose-dependent increase in brain blood flow (26). 

Even just 75 mg has been shown to increase brain circulation and cognition (27, 29). 

And a new study published just this year found that chronic resveratrol supplementation increases brain blood circulation in post-menopausal women, improving their cognition and mood (28, 30). 

I take this resveratrol supplement to support the long-term health of my brain. It’s good to know it naturally increase blood flow in the brain as well. You can get the resveratrol I take here or here

9. Dark Chocolate

Most people love chocolate, and your brain loves it too. 

Dark chocolate contains cocoa, which is known to improve blood flow. 

It's one of my favourite foods. 

Research suggests that the flavonoids found in cocoa beans increase blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours after eating them. And this leads to an improvement in cognitive performance and general alertness (33, 35). 

Certain food components like cocoa flavanols may be beneficial in increasing brain blood flow and enhancing brain function among older adults or for others in situations where they may be cognitively impaired, such as fatigue or sleep deprivation.
— Dr. Ian A. Macdonald, PhD, from the University of Nottingham Medical School in the United Kingdom

One study found that flavanol-rich cocoa significant increases the speed of brain blood flow in healthy elderly people (34). 

Another study showed that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day for 30 days was linked to improved blood flow to the brain and better memory (36). 

Dark chocolate also increases BDNF and reduces cortisol.

It’s important to choose a type of dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa.

Here is one of my favourite high-quality dark chocolates

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10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain.

They are essential, meaning your body cannot create them and you have to get them from food or supplements.

Making sure you get more omega-3s is one of the most important actions you can take to support your brain and nervous system.

They have been shown in many studies to significantly reduce brain inflammation; improve memory, mood and cognition; and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

But they also naturally increase brain blood flow and circulation. 

Research shows that higher omega-3 levels are significantly correlated with higher regional cerebral blood flow (37). 

This is very important research because it shows a correlation between lower omega-3 fatty acid levels and reduced brain blood flow to regions important for learning, memory, depression and dementia.
— Dr. Daniel G. Amen, MD, Amen Clinics

And one study found that omega-3 supplementation, in comparison with placebo, significantly increases brain blood flow (38). 

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring.

Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough of these foods.

So supplementing with krill oil should be considered. Krill oil is a special kind of fish oil that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. I’ve tried tons of fish oil supplements, and I recommend krill oil over all the others.

I take this krill oil supplement. I feel slightly depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

11. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to increase brain blood flow and circulation.

In a randomized controlled trial, 17 post-stroke patients did acupuncture or sham acupuncture for 20 minutes.

The researchers found that the speed of blood flow to both hemispheres of the brain significantly increased during and after acupuncture treatment (39, 42). 

Research has also shown that acupuncture can significantly improve cerebral blood flow and circulation in animals (40-41, 43). 

I’m a really big fan of auricular acupuncture, which is when the needles are inserted into ear.

In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture. I’m not sure why. I just personally noticed more benefits from ear acupuncture. 

I’d recommend trying to find a acupuncturist in your area who provides ear acupuncture.

Ear acupuncture really helped me the first time I weened off antidepressants. I was surprised.

At the end of each appointment, my practitioner would secure these small black seeds on my ear. 

I also use this acupuncture mat at home to relax before bed.

Acupuncture also stimulates the vagus nerve

12. Chewing Gum

Research reveals that chewing increases brain blood flow (44). 

As a result, chewing can improve cognitive performance and brain function, including working and spatial memory, and increases the level of arousal and alertness during a cognitive task (45). 

If you chew gum, make sure it’s aspartame-free, like this one.

Chewing gum also reduces cortisol

13. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) 

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an acetylated form of the amino acid carnitine. 

It’s known to help reverse neurological decline by increasing levels of acetylcholine in the brain.

It’s often used as a brain booster by people of all ages because it support brain cells and increases alertness.

It’s also been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood by supporting mitochondrial function.

Considering it does all this, it’s not surprising that researchers found that it can enhance brain blood flow in people who have had a stroke (46-47). 

I personally find ALCAR improves my mental energy and enhances my cognitive function.

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

Click here to subscribe

14. Nitrates

Nitrates are both naturally-occurring compounds found in soil and plants.

High levels of nitrates are found in foods such as beets, celery, cabbage, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables.

Research shows that a nitrate-rich diet can increase blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain, improving cognitive function and protecting against cognitive decline (51-52). 

Beet juice is a particularly rich source of nitrates, and studies have found that it can help widen blood vessels and increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain (53-54, 56). 

A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial even found that beet juice can improve cognitive performance by increasing brain blood flow (55). 

There have been several very high-profile studies showing that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure, but we wanted to show that drinking beet juice also increases perfusion, or blood flow, to the brain. There are areas in the brain that become poorly perfused as you age, and that’s believed to be associated with dementia and poor cognition.
— Dr. Daniel Kim-Shapiro, PhD

I don’t really enjoy the taste, but every so often I do drink beet juice during cognitively-demanding tasks. 

Here is a good organic beet juice

15. Drink Less Coffee (Or Take Theanine)

Coffee is generally excellent for brain health. There is a lot of research showing it is very healthy and can be protective against dementia.

However, studies also show that if you want to get more blood flowing to your brain and within you brain, you’re better off avoiding or limiting caffeine

A cup of coffee on a plate with a spoon. Coffee and caffeine reduce blood flow to the brain. So you should try to limit your intake of them. Or take it with theanine instead.

Researchers have found that caffeine significantly reduces brain blood flow by 20 to 30% depending on the study and dosage (74-77). 

The good news is that taking the amino acid theanine can reduce the negative brain blood flow effects of caffeine (78-79). 

That’s why I take this theanine supplement with my morning coffee

I also sometimes take breaks from drinking coffee to normalize brain blood flow and circulation. 

Taking the herb rhodiola can make quitting caffeine much easier because it helps reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Lastly, you could also try supplementing with the whole coffee fruit, instead of drinking coffee.

The coffee bean is usually separated from the coffee fruit for roasting. When this happens, the surrounding coffee fruit is then thrown away. 

That’s a problem because the coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

In fact, scientists have discovered that ingesting coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function. 

That’s why it’s included in Optimal Brain.

16. Piracetam

Piracetam is a “nootropic”, which means it’s a supplement that enhances cognition.

It provides a mild boost in brain function, and it’s regularly used in Europe, Asia and South America to treat cognitive impairment. 

A meta-analysis found that piracetam improves general cognition when supplemented by people in a state of cognitive decline (84). 

Research also shows that it can increase brain blood flow in humans and animals (85-91). 

Here is a good piracetam supplement. I used to take it every day but I don’t need it at all anymore.

Phenylpiracetam is an advanced version of piracetam and I found it to be even better because it improves mood and reduces anxiety. It’s also been shown to reverse the depressant effects of benzodiazepines (81-83).

You can get it here

Both piracetam and phenylpiracetam work best if you take them with a source of choline, such as CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC (80). 

17. Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate diet.

To follow it correctly, you need to eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.

This means you need to avoid all carbohydrate-rich foods, including grains, sugar, and even potatoes, legumes and fruit.

When you restrict carbs this much, your body enters ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose.

Researchers have found that ketones are a therapeutic option in traumatic brain injury because they can increase brain blood flow by 39% (100). 

Studies have also shown that ketones increase cerebral blood flow by 65% in animals (103-104). 

And caloric restriction also increases ketones, which preserves cerebral blood flow in aging rats (102). 

I follow a ketogenic diet every so often, but not for long stretches of time due to resulting hormone problems.

I do take Optimal Ketones every day, which are exogenous ketones that get your body into a state of ketosis very quickly. They immediately increase my mental clarity, without having to restrict carbs.

Ketones can also support mitochondria health, promote the regeneration of myelin, and increase the growth of new brain cells

18. Citicoline

Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is one of the most bioavailable forms of choline.

You need to get choline from food, but most people do not get enough because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

That’s why supplementation is often necessary.

Citicoline is a supplemental form of choline that has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.

It enhances the synthesis of acetylcholine and dopamine (two neurotransmitters that are critical for optimal brain function) and increases the number of acetylcholine and dopamine receptors in your brain (105-110). 

It’s also been shown to improve cognitive function by increasing the rate of brain blood flow (114-116). 

A double-blind placebo-controlled study concluded that Citicoline improves cognitive performance in patients with Alzheimer’s disease by increasing brain blood flow (113). 

Citicoline significantly improves my focus and mental energy. It's included in the Optimal Brain supplement

You can also find some choline in foods such as beef liver and egg yolks, but the effects of Citicoline are much more noticeable and immediate because it quickly passes the blood-brain barrier and supports your brain.  

Citicoline also promote the regeneration of myelin, support the blood-brain barrier, and help reverse brain damage.

19. Blueberry Juice

Drinking blueberry juice improves cognitive function in the elderly, according to research published this year (123-125). 

One way it improved brain health was by increasing oxygen levels and increasing blood flow to the brain.

The participants had improvements in working memory while doing cognitive testing.

In this study we have shown that with just 12 weeks of consuming 30ml of concentrated blueberry juice every day, brain blood flow, brain activation and some aspects of working memory were improved in this group of healthy older adults.
— Dr. Joanna Bowtell

The amount of juice in the study was equivalent to 230g of blueberries.

The researchers believe that the flavonoids in blueberries were responsible for the positive effects.  

 

20. Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ)

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is a vitamin-like enzyme and potent antioxidant found in plant foods that can improve cognitive function.

Researchers have found that supplementing with PQQ can increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (117-118). 

One study found that PQQ can prevent the reduction of brain function in elderly people, especially in attention and working memory, by increasing brain blood flow (119). 

I cycle this BioPQQ supplement with my other mitochondrial-support supplements

21. Intranasal Insulin

Insulin is one of the hormones that significantly affects brain function.

It's been shown to pass the blood-brain barrier and act on insulin receptors directly within the brain.

An elderly man sprays insulin up his nose. Intranasal insulin has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain.

In a new therapeutic approach, commercially-available insulin (Novalin R) is prepared and added to nasal spray bottles - like these ones - and sprayed and inhaled through the nose to support brain and mental health.

Intranasal insulin has been reported to significantly enhance memory, increase mental energy, reduce brain fog, improve mood, and lower anxiety and stress levels.

One possible mechanism is by increasing brain blood flow and circulation.

Research shows that intranasal insulin increases regional cerebral blood flow in the insular cortex (120, 122). 

And in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, intranasal insulin improved brain blood flow in older adults (121).  

If you’re interested in learning more, I previously wrote a full article about intranasal insulin.

22. BONUS: Other Promising Nutrients and Herbs

Researchers have found that the following compounds can increase cerebral blood flow in animals, but I couldn’t find any research showing that it will do the same in humans. However, they are worth experimenting with as many of them have supported my brain and mental health over the years.

A picture of the brain and nervous system.
 

Enjoy This Article? You Might Also Like My FREE Food Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health!

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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